Miguel de Santisteban, bom in the early 1690s to a distinguished family in Panama City, served the crown in Peru and New Granada for 62 years in various posts, from captain in the Callao presidio (1714) and corregidor in Canas y Canchis (1723-28) to juez de residencia of three viceroys in New Granada, and superintendent of the Santa Fe Mint from 1753 until his death in 1776. A traveler and naturalist as well, he was a friend of José Celestino Mutis, and head of an expedition commissioned in 1752 to study the quinine-yielding cinchona tree and the costs of quinine production for export. The travel journal admirably presented in this book documents a remarkable trip from Lima to Caracas that Santisteban made in the company of several friends about midway through his career, during 14 months of 1740 and 1741. A straightforward account, the diary deals with the logistics of the trip, the towns and hamlets covered, the difficulties of travel, and coincidentally the areas’ depressed economies and the writer’s opinions on what should be done about them.
Santisteban initiated the journey in 1740. He had decided not to put off plans to go to Spain, even though the intended port of departure, Portobelo, was under siege by the British. The overland trip from Yaguache, near Guayaquil, to Caracas, involved swamps; steep and often perilous inclines; rivers and streams to ford or, in a few cases, to cross by means of hanging bridges, described in some detail. Not least important was the periodic need to hire fresh pack mules to carry the “100 bultos” of belongings the travelers took with them. Santisteban’s place-by-place account includes a section on travel along the Magdalena River from Honda to Mompox and back, undertaken in an abortive attempt (albeit, as he points out, an instructive one) to use Cartagena as a port of exit.
Throughout the journal, Santisteban frequently touches on matters of interest to modern students, providing an eighteenth-century, upper-class criollo commentary on the decline of mining, markets, and agricultural production; related labor issues; and their economic importance for the well-being of the colonies and, even more important from his point of view, for the crown. Nevertheless, his firsthand accounts of the potential for abundant, inexpensive production of agricultural products and other goods are tempered by observations on the dampening influence of crown-mandated limits on trade, the inattention to roads that made difficult terrain even more hazardous, and the failure of local or crown enterprise to take advantage of local resources.
Two transcriptions of the original diary exist, one in Paris and the other in New York. The latter was the primary text for this edition. David Robinson has done scholars of the period a valuable service by providing the journal in its entirety, very clearly and thoroughly documented. Biographical notes offer a view of Santisteban through his work, situating him in the context of eighteenth-century intellectual life and administrative circles. So do appendixes with documents regarding his awards and the difficult, strongly contested Residencia of Solís over which he presided. An appendix of the places through which Santisteban passed on his journey of 1740-41 is extracted from the journal, with dates of arrival and departure, number of leagues from one site to the next, and amount of time spent in travel. Text notes, maps, and an excellent index also contribute to a very full reading of the journal.